“A rare documentary . . . compact and elegant.”
– New York Times
“The Optimists reveals Bulgarians’ courage amid cruelty”
– Los Angeles Times
“Uplifting documentary . . . fascinating story.”
– TV Guide
“A miraculous sharp movie.”
– Chicago Tribune
“Individuals triumph over odds in inspiring ʻOptimistsʼ.”
– Chicago Sun Times
“Potent and gripping”
– Boston Globe
On March 9th, 1943, police arrived at the home of Jacky Comforty’s family in Bulgaria. This was to be the beginning of the end, the start of the journey to Treblinka.
All was proceeding according to the plan drawn up several weeks earlier by Nazi Germany and its Bulgarian allies. At gunpoint, Jacky’s grandparents; his aunt, then fifteen years old; and his uncle, age four, all marched to the deportation center set up at a neighborhood school. Jacky’s father, 22 at the time, was not at home when the police came. He lay in a hospital, maltreated after a train accident while being interned in a slave labor camp.
The four Comfortys, scheduled to depart for Poland that day, were among the 8,500 Bulgarian Jews targeted first for extermination. Just a few days before, Bulgaria started rounding up for deportations 11,343 Jews from its annexed territories taken from Greece and Yugoslavia.
On March 10th, the Jews of Plovdiv were brought to the former Jewish schoolyard. They waited all day. And then, at the end of that day, they were simply sent home.
In total, forty nine thousand Jews survived, because Bulgarian friends found ways to protect them from their would-be murderers, in defiance of their Nazi-allied government. The Optimists tells their story.
The purpose of this documentary project has been to explore how these different ethnic and religious groups came to live together in peace in Bulgaria during the Holocaust, and to learn how the lessons learned can be applied today.
In Bulgaria, both organized efforts and individuals made a difference. The Bulgarian Parliament, Church, intellectuals, trade unions, professional guilds, and the Jewish community all helped defeat the Nazis’ plans for mass deportations. And the many individuals who helped left a legacy of rescue stories. They include:
* Dimiter Peshev deputy speaker of the Parliament who ruined his political career but successfully mobilized Parliament members to stop the deportations
* Rubin Dimitrov the baker who hid Jews in his bakery’s ovens
* Anton Kirilov the judge who rescued his friend caught up in a transport to Treblinka of Jews the Bulgaria government handed the Germans * the priest who pledged to board the train to Treblinka along with the Jews if they were deported
* Vera Kocheva the teacher who wore a Jewish star out of solidarity with her Jewish friends
* Penka Kassabova the school principal who admitted Jewish students to her school, which was shut down by the government
and the many anonymous Bulgarians who went before daybreak to wash away hateful an anti-Semitic slogans Nazis painted during the night on buildings.